peres 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
"We wish to see Lebanon again as the Switzerland of the Middle East - Switzerland, and not Iran," President Shimon Peres said at a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the northern city of Kiryat Shmona.
While praising the resilience and progress of Kiryat Shmona's residents, Peres dedicated many of words to Israel's northern neighbor.
"The situation in Lebanon has changed. We have not changed. We never were and never will be enemies of Lebanon," he said. "There was not in the past nor is there now any reason for Lebanon to be Israel's enemy or for Israel to be Lebanon's enemy. We wish the Lebanese people success in rebuilding their country and hope that an alliance of peace and good neighborly relations will emerge between us.
"The Lebanese border is still threatening. The Second Lebanon War created a new reality. Israeli deterrence has been restored, but Hizbullah on the other hand brought calamity on Lebanon and its people. We saw that in its subservience to Iran, Hizbullah is destroying Lebanon. There is nowhere in the world where an organization as bizarre as Hizbullah exists. It's entire ideology is war and destruction. Hizbullah established a state within a state, and army within an army; an organization thirsty for blood in a land yearning for peace. It is not Israel which is a danger to Lebanon. The land of the cedars is cursed by Hizbullah."
"Israel's interest is clear," Peres continued. It is "to see Lebanon truly independent; to see it as a normal country, without a foreign military inside it, without a strange dagger pointing at its heart. We have no ambition in Lebanon. We do not want a speck of its land, a drop of its water. Hizbullah's arms' caches are a danger to Lebanon more than to Israel. Its subservience to the ayatollahs in Iran makes no sense. The Iranian regime itself is going through a crisis. Hordes of Iranians don't want to live for eternity in blood and fire, under the thumb of a hysterical dictatorship."
Earlier in his speech, the president praised Kiryat Shmona as "not just a city in Israelâ€¦ [but] a symbol of resilience and heroism - and of the success of standing strong against all odds."
Kiryat Shmona was on the front line in the Second Lebanon War and was hit harder than any other Israeli town.
The president's words come after a war of words between Jerusalem on one side, and Beirut and Hizbullah on the other.
Earlier this week, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman urged Lebanese parties to form a unity government to withstand "the Israeli threat" and a Hizbullah official warned Israel that if it attacked Lebanon, the Second Lebanon War would "look like a joke."
Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that if Hizbullah joins the Lebanese government, Israel would not eschew attacks on state institutions and infrastructure and would hold the government in Beirut accountable for any violence against Israel.
The president's speech at Kiryat Shmona may therefore be seen as an attempt to defuse tensions built up by the bellicose statements.